Sexual health and safe relationship education are not easy topics to discuss. And publicly-accessible information on them are desperately lacking for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Providing this information is critical though: the US Department of Justice reports that 68% to 83% of women with intellectual and developmental disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Other reports show that men with intellectual and development disabilities will experience similarly high levels of sexual abuse.
“Individuals with IDD are sexually assaulted at a rate seven times higher than those without disabilities,” said Katie Hanley, Program Director of the Center for Relationship and Sexual Education at Oak Hill. Oak Hill, Connecticut’s largest private provider of services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is hoping to combat this epidemic. It mission is to provides information on sex and safe relationships that are appropriate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“Oak Hill’s vision is that people with disabilities will be able to achieve their full potential, engage in their community and meaningful relationships, and fulfill their physical, intellectual, emotional, economic, social, and spiritual needs,” said Hanley.
Center for Relationships and Sexual Education
Built on its over-century-long track record of providing high-quality services for people with disabilities, Oak Hill’s Center for Relationship and Sexual Education was founded in 1995 to increase access to information and address the vulnerability to abuse experienced by people with disabilities.
CRSE’s sexuality and relationship education was featured in a 2018 NPR special series, “Abused and Betrayed,” which shed light on the sexual assault epidemic among people with disabilities- as one way to reduce the prevalence of sexual assault among this population.
Today, the Center is using its expertise to produce free, electronic workbooks on sexuality and healthy relationships for adults with disabilities.
With The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation’s support, CRSE will update its sexual health and safe relationship education workbooks, digitize them, and make them publicly available for free. The workbooks are designed to educate adults with disabilities about topics such as their bodies, consent, how to date safely, how to spot red flags, and how to get help when needed.
“CRSE offers accessible resources for people with IDD that can help ensure that every individual has the information they need to have safe, healthy relationships,” said Hanley. “This project will make these materials even more accessible and help get them into the hands of the people who need them.”
Oak Hill’s Center for Relationship and Sexual Education hopes to expand the reach of these resources to people across the country and beyond. “We have distributed these workbooks and curricula across 32 US states, Canada, the UK, and Australia,” said Hanley. The workbooks will be available on CRSE’s website, www.oakhittct.org/Services/Relationship-Sexuality.
Looking Toward the Future
CRSE will continue to combat the sexual assault epidemic among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through its educational and advocacy initiatives. In addition to providing free educational materials, CRSE recently launched an advocacy campaign “to raise awareness and promote discussion about facilitating education for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and those who support them,” said Hanley.